How to get over jet lag when you travel long-haul
Anyone who has been on a long-haul flight around the world will probably have had experience of jet lag , one part of travelling that most of us could really do without.
It’s the sleepy, unreal grogginess that hits when you feel like you’re starved of sleep , but often can’t doze off, making travelling to another time zone for a holiday a bit of a trial sometimes.
The World Health Organisation warns that the effects are far greater than problems with sleep – jet lag can cause indigestion issues, disturbance of bowel function, blood pressure fluctuations and general malaise.
Luckily, symptoms tend to improve after a few days as your body gets used to the new time zone.
But who wants to have the first days of their holiday spoiled?
Here’s everything you need to know to beat jet lag on your next holiday….
What is jet lag?
When you cross time zones, the pineal gland – which controls your body’s temperature and internal clock – is disrupted by the change in light, playing havoc with your natural rhythms.
It means we can react subconsciously to changes in our environment and know when we should sleep in the normal cycle of 24 hours.
Light and darkness naturally influence our sleeping patterns – which is no problem when we’re working on our normal schedule.
But the body gets a bit annoyed when we go through speedy and sizeable changes in those environmental influences, which is what happens when we fly through several time zones.
What are the symptoms of jet lag?
Jet lag is what we call it when your body is reacting to these changes in your environment, which is basically your body taking time to adjust to its new place and time.
Symptoms include feeling sleepy during the day in your new time zone, but also having a troubled sleep at night.
You may also feel less able to concentrate or motivate, exhibit decreased mental and physical performance, perhaps have headaches and irritability, loss of appetite and gastro-intestinal problems such as constipation.
How can you beat jet lag?
If you’re really worried, there are some measures you can take to help beat the severity of your jet lag.
We spoke to sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan to get her tips…
Before you fly:
1. Think ahead
Start preparing the week before you travel. Get good sleep, exercise regularly (preferably outdoors), eat healthily, avoid caffeine and keep hydrated.
2. Stay active
At the airport, move around as much as possible. Sitting around before you fly is the worst thing you can do – stay active before the flight and you won’t feel as sluggish when you board.
Once on the plane, stretch and move around regularly as this will improve blood flow and stop you feeling too lethargic.
3. Eat well
On the day you’re travelling, and once you arrive at your destination, eat a healthy meal with fresh fruit and vegetables. Avoid caffeine, refined sugars and heavily salted plane food if possible.
Take snacks on board with you such as oat cakes, nuts and dried fruit, crudités and fresh fruit.
On the plane:
4. Drink wisely
Stay hydrated and avoid stimulants. Take a large bottle of water on the plane with you, and herbal tea bags so you can have a caffeine-free hot drink. Avoid alcohol .
Close your eyes and meditate on take-off and landing for 20 minutes each time. Breathe in deeply, and imagine putting down roots as you exhale.
Imagine those roots going all the way down to the core of the earth, anchoring you.
Watch a relaxing film, listen to music, or read. If you start feeling sleepy, switch the film off or put the book down, and prepare to rest rather than dozing off during an activity. If you have to work, do so for short amounts of time.
Put the emphasis on resting rather than sleeping. Dot lavender oils or eucalyptus on your flight cushion to help you relax, and use an eye mask and ear plugs.
Put a ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign on your table if you don’t want to be woken for meals or duty-free shopping trollies.
8. Go natural
Avoid medication to help you sleep as your body needs to naturally adjust to the time zone. If you can’t sleep, think about having a rest – it’s likely you will drift off anyway.
Once you arrive:
9. Don’t nap
Try to hold off on napping as you need to synchronise your internal clock to your destination.
If you feel sleepy go for a walk. If you must nap, do it between 2-4 in the afternoon and sleep for a maximum of 20 minutes. Eat light food, as feeling too full will add to your tiredness. Stay hydrated and avoid alcohol.
10. Don’t clock-watch
Change your clock to local time immediately and don’t keep thinking about what the time is at home – this will only make you feel worse.
- Dr Nerina Ramlakhan is Silent Night’s resident sleep expert, visit silentnight.co.uk for more information.
What do pilots do to help with jet lag?
Pilots deal with jet lag on a daily basis; so when they share their advice, we listen.
Mirror Travel caught up with pilot Tom Richards, 30, who is a Senior First Officer on the Airbus A330 for Thomas Cook Airlines .
He’s been flying professionally for seven years, and regularly does long-haul journeys; so he’s a pro at adjusting to different time zones.
He’s revealed his personal tips and tricks for surviving jet lag exclusively to Mirror Travel, from the best things to do during the flight right through to the moment you’ve arrived in your destination.
- Avoid sleeping during the day in your new time zone, go for a walk in the sunlight.
- Exercise, gently and frequently.
- Stay hydrated before, during and after your flight.
- Eat at meal times of your new time zone as soon as possible as it will help your blood sugar levels adjust.
- Avoid artificial light prior to going to sleep such as TV, phones.
- Have short 30-40 minute naps if you find yourself feeling tired.
Tom also answered some of passengers’ most common questions – check out his full interview here .
What affects the severity of jet lag?
The number of time zones you cross has an impact on how you feel and, sometimes, so does the direction of travel.
Symptoms are commonly worse if travel is eastwards rather than westwards. Symptoms may also depend on whether you are a morning person or a ‘night owl’. Age and gender are not thought to hve any effect on the symptoms of jet lag.
How does jet lag differ from travel fatigue?
Travelling in a car, bus, train can be uncomfortable and make you tired and irritable, but these are temporary symptoms which clear quickly after you’ve stopped travelling.
Travel fatigue can happen after any long-haul flight, but you will only suffer from jet lag if you cross several (probably more than three) time zones.
You only cross time zones if you travel eastward or westward, so you won’t suffer from jet lag if you fly more or less directly north or south, for example from the UK to Africa or from North to South America.